In a nutshell: China will play an especially influential role in how many of the biggest challenges of the next century play out, including global catastrophic biological risks and — especially — developing emerging technologies like AI. But a lack of understanding and coordination between China and the West means we might not tackle those challenges as well as we can (and need to). Therefore, it will be very valuable to have more people specialising in the intersection of China and catastrophic risks and emerging technologies.
If you are well suited to this career, it may be the best way for you to have a social impact.
Based on a medium-depth investigation
Last summer, China unveiled a plan to become the world leader in artificial intelligence, aiming to create a $150 billion industry by 2030.
“We must take initiative to firmly grasp this new stage of development for artificial intelligence and create a new competitive edge,” the country’s State Council said. The move symbolised the technological thrust of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” promoted by President Xi Jinping.
And it’s not just AI. China is becoming increasingly important in the solution of other global problems prioritised by the effective altruism community, including biosecurity, factory farming, and nuclear security. But few in the community know much about the country, and coordination between Chinese and Western organisations seems like it could be improved a great deal.
This suggests that a high-impact career path could be to develop expertise in the intersection between China, effective altruism, and pressing global issues. Once you have this expertise, you can use it to carry out research into global priorities or AI strategy, work in governments setting relevant areas of China–West policy, advise Western groups on how to work together with their Chinese counterparts, and other projects that we’ll sketch below.
For this reason, we’ve added “China specialists” to our list of priority career paths. Although there’s still much we don’t understand about this area, we think it’s an option especially worth considering if you’re aligned with the effective altruism community, have an interest in China, and are relatively good at humanities compared to quantitative skills.
In the rest of this article, we explain why understanding China is valuable. Then, we suggest concrete career steps you could take along this path, both in the short and long term, whether you have a Chinese or Western background. We’ll also explain why we don’t think outreach in China is a good idea right now.
There are already several people going down this path, but we need a lot more expertise and connections. In the next few years, it seems useful for up to 10–20 people in the community to develop significant expertise across the relevant topics.
For this reason, we co-authored this post with a specialist, Brian Tse.
Speak with our team
If you’re already familiar with the effective altruism community and want to pursue this path, we’d like to speak with you.
China is the largest foreign investor in Africa — larger than the US — which highlights its importance in global development.1
China is the largest emitter of CO2 emissions, accounting for 30% of the total.2
The Chinese government is arguably more proactive in increasing energy efficiency than the US.3
China recently became the largest consumer of factory farmed meat.4
In the areas of global catastrophic risk and emerging technology, China has an even more central role. It’s one of the most important nuclear and military powers. As the largest trading partner of North Korea, China plays an especially important role in reducing the chance of conflict on the Korean peninsula, making it vital within nuclear security. As home to nearly 20% of the world’s population,5 it will play a central role in mitigating pandemics.
Meanwhile, China is increasingly a leader in developing new technologies. Beijing is widely seen as a serious competitor to Silicon Valley,6 and is the major source of non-US ‘unicorns.’7 After the US and UK, it’s probably the next most important country in developing and shaping transformative AI (the UK is only a contender because DeepMind happens to be headquartered in London).8
This all means it’s difficult to understand the scale and urgency of these problems without understanding the situation in China. What’s more, it’ll be difficult to solve any of these global problems without better coordination between Western groups and their Chinese equivalents.
At the same time, China is one of the least well-understood countries in the West. For instance, I (Ben) studied history for 13 years at school, but didn’t study a single module of Chinese history.
Interest in China has grown in the last decade (and my school added a module on Chinese history soon after I left), but it still lags well behind many other countries. For instance, in American colleges and universities, the number of students studying French is three times larger than those studying Chinese,9 while the starting level of cultural difference is larger. There is a similar degree of interest in Japanese, despite China’s population being 10 times larger.10
The situation seems to be the same within the ‘effective altruism’ community — a global movement that we helped to start, which aims to use evidence and reason to search for the most effective ways to do good in the world.
Many key organisations in the effective altruism community want to better understand China to inform their work. For instance, Open Philanthropy has recently funded several organisations doing work in China (covered later), and representatives of many of the AI risk research organisations have attended conferences in China.
However, these organisations struggle to find people who combine an in-depth knowledge of effective altruism with knowledge of China’s culture and role in key global problems. They also struggle to find people connected to relevant Chinese experts. This suggests that people who want to coordinate with the community could play a valuable role by providing these kinds of expertise and connections.
Which topics are most important to understand within effective altruism in China?
At 80,000 Hours, we think the most pressing global issues often relate to global catastrophic risks and emerging technology — areas where the role of China is especially important.
What follows are some specific topics we’d like to see more people gain relevant expertise in. These are all vital issues to understand in the US and UK as well, but the intersection of these issues with China is particularly neglected.
AI safety and strategy
Safely managing the introduction of transformative AI requires global coordination, and it won’t be possible to achieve this without an understanding of China, and coordination with Chinese organisations. This means understanding issues like:
What is the state of AI development in China?
What attitudes do Chinese computer scientists have towards AI safety and their social responsibility? Who is most influential?
How does the Chinese government shape its technology policy? What attitudes does it have towards AI safety and regulation in particular?
What actions are likely to be taken by the Chinese government and companies concerning AI safety?
Global coordination is also necessary to reduce biorisk. To do this, we will need to understand issues like:
What is the state of synthetic biology research in China?
What attitudes do Chinese biology researchers have towards safety and social responsibility?
How does Chinese government technology policy relate to the risks from this technology?
Working with Chinese organisations on any topic requires an awareness of Chinese culture, history, and current affairs, as well as good intuitions about how each side will react to different messages and proposals. This involves understanding issues like:
What are Chinese attitudes towards doing good and social impact?
If you wanted to make connections with Chinese people interested in working on major global challenges, what messages should you espouse, and what pitfalls might you face? How does professional networking function in China in general?
What are Chinese attitudes to philanthropy? Who are the most influential figures in philanthropy? Who might be amenable to a more evidence-based style of giving?
We expect that fully understanding these topics will require deep familiarity with Chinese values, worldviews, history, customs, and so on — noting, of course, that these also vary substantially across the country. This type of familiarity is generally best built by living in a place, rather than through research or a small number of conversations — this is one of several reasons that spending significant time in China is likely to be valuable.
We also need people with outstanding Chinese language skills (both written and spoken).
International coordination and foreign policy
Improving coordination between Chinese and foreign governments can help with the management of many types of catastrophic risk, and many other issues.
How, when, and why does China provide public goods globally?
What are China’s foreign policy priorities, and how is it likely to handle the possibility of global catastrophic risks?
How can coordination between the West and China be increased, and the chance of conflict be decreased?
How should Western government policy concerning catastrophic risks relate to Chinese policy?
Other global problems
Outside of global catastrophic risks and global priorities research, many of the key organisations working to reduce factory farming are expanding rapidly into China, so expertise in China and factory farming is also useful.
Among the global problems we tend to focus on, knowledge of China seems least important within global health and development. This is because China is not as important a player in international aid and global health, so the EA community is able to make progress without as much China-related expertise. It also seems easier to find people who are already experts on the intersection of China and development policy than with the topics listed above.
Knowledge of and connections with effective altruism
With everything listed above, we’re not only looking for people who understand these topics, but also people who combine this with an effective altruism approach to doing good. This means trying to help all people equally, trying to identify the most effective ways to help, aiming to have well-calibrated judgements, and justifying them with evidence and reason. We find these attitudes are quite rare, especially in foreign policy, which is often focused on national interest.
Similarly, it’s important for people to have connections and trust within the existing effective altruism community, so you can inform them about China and help coordinate their efforts. Even if you have a great deal of knowledge of China already, if you can’t speak the language of effective altruism, then it’s difficult for the organisations to use your assessments of Chinese issues).
With that in mind, the list below suggests some ways to do two things at once: develop expertise in relevant Chinese topics, while also getting more involved in the rest of the community.
How many people does the community need?
Our rough guess is that it would be useful for there to be at least 10 people in the effective altruism community with good knowledge in this area within the next few years — meaning they’ve spent at least three years studying the topics above and/or living in China.
We chose 10 because that would be enough for several people to cover each of the major areas listed (e.g. four within AI, two within biorisk, two within foreign relations, and one in another area).
Getting to this point probably requires a significantly wider network of people in the area, and for many more people to experiment with this path. So, it could be reasonable for 30+ people to seriously experiment with this path, and aim to build a network of over 100 people within the next two years.
Longer term, there will likely be a need for many more people with knowledge of China, as new organisations and projects get started and hire staff.
Why we don’t want to do ‘outreach’ in China
In the early days of 80,000 Hours, we made many mistakes doing outreach in the UK and US, which have been difficult to unwind.
For instance, even today many people think 80,000 Hours is primarily about earning to give, despite us saying many times we don’t think earning to give is typically the highest-impact option.
When we start talking about effective altruism in China, people often assume that this means we want to go and persuade people in China to become ‘effective altruists,’ and perhaps start donating to effective charities.
But we don’t see building a broad-based effective altruism community in China as a key priority — in fact, we see these efforts as likely unhelpful.
Any kind of broad-based outreach is risky because it’s hard to reverse. Once your message is out there, it tends to stick around for years, so if you get the message wrong, you’ve harmed years of future efforts. We call this the risk of ‘lock in.’ Lock in is partly caused because once there are websites and articles about you, they stick around. But it’s also because first impressions are difficult to shift.
China also presents more risks than most countries due to government censorship and the one-party system, which is often wary of non-governmental groups that try to bring about grassroots change. If an organisation is blacklisted, then that’s a nearly irreversible setback.
It’s easy to get wrong
It seems especially easy to promote an unhelpful message in China.
One reason for this is that Chinese culture is pretty different from the West, so the best way to discuss issues may well be different too. For example, Chinese writing is much more likely to involve historical references or quotes than Western writing. Rather than quote Peter Singer, one might consider quoting Mozi — arguably the earliest consequentialist philosopher in history, who in around 400 BCE wrote about the importance of ‘universal concern’ (兼愛) towards all people.
Existing English language materials are also unsuitable, because they focus on the wrong topics. For example, many materials in the West focus on the value of donating to charities in Africa, but internationally focused philanthropy is much rarer in China, and the Chinese government has prohibited foreign nonprofit organisations from fundraising in the country.11 Moreover, it’s not the key priority — what’s needed is a good understanding of China rather than funding.
We’ve also found significant problems in our attempts to translate Chinese materials so far. For instance, the direct translation of ‘effective altruism’ that was initially used (有效利他主义):
Used a term for ‘altruism’ that implied a great deal of self-sacrifice.
Sounds obviously foreign, which we expect would make it less appealing.
Sounds like a political ideology, which may not be viewed positively by the government.
Likewise, one of the possible translations of ‘existential risk’ (生存危机) is very close to the name of a computer game (生化危机), so it doesn’t have the credibility one might want.
It over-simplifies effective altruism – both in China, and in the West
We don’t think mass outreach is the ideal way to promote effective altruism in the West either. This is because the ideas of effective altruism are complex, and the media tends to oversimplify them. We think it’s better to focus on in-person discussions, and use high-quality learning materials — such as books, academic or other in-depth articles, and podcasts — rather than short-form content designed for a broad audience. Read more.
Putting all of this together, if there is going to be a Chinese equivalent of effective altruism in the future, then the materials would need to be developed from scratch by people with a deep understanding of China. Acting quickly with existing materials is likely to lock in poor messaging, and spoil future efforts.
Rather than focus on outreach, our priority is to better understand and coordinate with China. We want to do this by making a small number of strong connections with experts in China. Instead of creating irreversible risks, this strategy better serves the short-term priorities around global catastrophic risks, where knowledge is the key bottleneck.
Examples of people pursuing this path
How can you start a career in this area?
If you want to gain expertise in the topics above and effective altruism, what are some good ways to start?
We commissioned Brian Tse to do several weeks of research in Chinese careers. He combined this research process with his own educational experiences at Tsinghua University and University of Hong Kong, as well as projects with Open Philanthropy on farm animal welfare, Good Food Institute, Future of Humanity Institute, and Foundational Research Institute on topics related to China. He has also worked with J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong and an AI startup in Beijing. Based on this very preliminary work, we’ve made a list of options that seem especially promising.
Broadly, the aim is to get a useful combination of the following as quickly as possible:
A general understanding of Chinese language and culture. This probably requires spending at least a year living in China.
Below is a list of specific career steps you can take to gain the above. Most people should pursue a combination depending on their existing expertise and personal fit.
We think it’s useful for both people who grew up in China and in the West to pursue this path. It would be great to have more Chinese people involved in the effective altruism community, and for more existing community members to learn about China.
Get involved in the effective altruism community
It’s important to understand and have connections with the effective altruism community in the West, especially the organisations that do work relevant to China.
Beyond this, it would be ideal to spend time working or interning in one of the relevant organisations. See a list of organisations and a guide to getting jobs at them in our career review.
It might be possible to get funding for people with knowledge of China to do placements in Western organisations. For people especially focused on China, there is also a WeChat group for the Chinese-speaking community with around 100 members, and local meetups in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taipei.
Apply to top scholarships
We’re aware of two prestigious scholarships, in which you study China-relevant topics for one year at a top university, while being introduced to an influential network. These are extremely competitive, but worth considering if you have strong undergraduate qualifications and some kind of impressive extracurricular achievement.
The second is the Yenching Scholarship, which is based at Peking University. Yenching offers more courses in humanities and seems to have a greater engagement with Chinese literature relative to Schwarzman.
These are open to both Chinese citizens and people of other nationalities. People from both backgrounds can benefit from gaining an influential network in China and studying Chinese international affairs.
Do relevant graduate study
Outside of these highly competitive scholarships, there are many relevant graduate programmes.
If you want to work on issues around future technology, then it might be better to simply study something like synthetic biology or machine learning, and then increase your China focus later.
Alternatively, you could start studying economics, international relations, and security studies, with a focus on China. Ideally, you can also focus on issues like emerging technologies, conflict, and international coordination. See ideas for high-impact research within China studies.
It’s also useful to have a general knowledge of Chinese language, history, and politics.
All of these subjects are useful, so we’d recommend putting significant weight on personal fit in choosing between them. Some will also better keep your options open, such as economics and machine learning. See our general advice on choosing graduate programmes.
Once you’ve chosen a type of programme that’s a good fit, we think it’s generally best to aim to go to the highest-ranked university possible — whether that’s in the West or China — rather than specifically aiming to study in China. It’s probably more useful to gain an impressive credential than spend time living in China, since there are many other ways to do that.
An alternative is to look for a joint programme, such as the dual degree offered by Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University. John Hopkins is highly ranked for policy master’s degrees, so this course combines a good credential with the opportunity to study in China.
If you don’t yet have many connections with the effective altruism community, then you could also use graduate study as an opportunity to gain these, by being based in one of the main hubs, including the San Francisco Bay Area, London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Boston.
If you’re a Chinese citizen, then you can also consider:
The China Oxford Scholarship offers up to 20 scholarship places to students from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford.
Work at a think tank
Think tank roles can let you learn about relevant areas of Chinese policy, while also offering a good general purpose early career step for people who want to have a positive impact. If you decide against working on China-related issues, then you can switch into other policy areas later.
One promising option is to work at a Western think tank, studying issues relevant to Chinese technology and global catastrophic risk policy. There will be opportunities to work on China-related areas at many think tanks, but some focus more on the most relevant topics than others. For instance, Brookings Institution and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace were both funded by Open Philanthropy.
Work in another policy or politics position in your home country, focused on Chinese-relevant policy
Besides think tank jobs, you can also take other early career policy positions — such as in government, political parties, or influencer roles like journalism — to establish your career. Then, over time you can specialise more and more in China-relevant issues.
For instance, you could work in a relevant government agency and specialise in China-related issues (e.g. see our list of agencies in the UK), you could advise a politician on technology or foreign policy, or you could work in technology or foreign affairs journalism.
This path has significant flexibility, since it would be easy to switch into other policy issues if you decide not to focus on China.
Learn Chinese in China
Although Chinese takes about four times longer to learn than most European languages for native English speakers,12 if you study effectively, it’s possible to get to conversational fluency in 6–18 months of full-time study.
Our guess is that if you want a career involving China, this is probably worth your time. Many people in China don’t speak any English, and although high school and college students are required to study English, many are only proficient in reading rather than speaking. Being able to speak Chinese makes it easier to make friends and demonstrates your interest in the country. So although translation apps are improving rapidly, we expect it’s still going to be worth it.
However, written Chinese, as you might use in business, seems to take at least several years of hard study, because there’s a significant difference between conversational and formal Chinese. This makes the question of whether or not it’s worthwhile much less obvious (though it might be required for certain options).
On a more personal note, I (Ben) studied Chinese in China and found it a great deal of fun. It’s entirely different to Western languages (with a refreshing lack of conjugation), and lets you start to access a vast and often unknown culture, which one-sixth of the world’s population participates in. People in China are also very welcoming and friendly to those who make an effort to use the language, which provides daily encouragement — not to mention the fun life of a foreign student and the amazing food!
How can you learn most effectively? Most classroom teaching is pretty inefficient compared to what’s possible. I managed to learn 2–3 times faster than what is typical by following these steps (and I’ve seen others do the same):
Live in China while you learn, and aim to speak Chinese 100% of the time. If possible, study full-time.
Focus on one-on-one conversation as much as possible, since then you’re deliberately practising the most relevant skill, and the most useful vocabulary. You can get a one-on-one tutor for around $10 per hour.
Learn vocabulary with a spaced-repetition app like Memrise or Anki, where you focus on the most commonly used words, and the words that you find yourself most often using, rather than what you’ll find in common syllabi.
It’s easiest to start in a university language course, perhaps ideally in a prestigious university, such as Peking University. Alternatively, you could go to a place that specialises in teaching foreigners, such as the Beijing Language and Culture University.
These typically involve three hours of classes per day in the morning, with the afternoon free for learning vocabulary, homework, one-on-one lessons, and conversations with Chinese friends or other students. I did this for three months in Beijing and Dalian, and found it really fun. After you settle in, you could switch to 100% one-on-one practice, which is more efficient.
These courses typically cost about $300–500 per month, depending on the intensity and duration of the program,13 plus in Beijing or Shanghai you might need $1,200 per month for living expenses. If you’re willing to live in a less glamorous city such as Xian, Chongqing, or Wuhan, then your costs could be about halved.14 If you’re still at university, it’s often possible to do a semester abroad as part of your programme.
Alternatively, you can also consider intensive language programmes offered by places such as CET, IUP, Middlebury, and ACC — these are generally seen as the industry leaders. They are more expensive, and don’t give you the brand recognition that a university does, but you can generally learn faster, due to smaller classes and required language pledges (you promise to speak only the language you’re studying for the duration of the programme).
Some particularly good resources on language learning include:
Work as a foreign journalist writing about China-relevant issues
If you can specialise in a relevant area, then you can build up expertise while building a good network.
For those already proficient in Mandarin and with a China-related degree from a top university — such as China Studies or International Relations with a focus on East Asia — you may wish to consider working as a foreign correspondent in China.
English-language news agencies such as Reuters, the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Bloomberg maintain large bureaus in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, and often hire younger journalists.
Most major international publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times also have a small but significant presence in the same cities where you can apply for internships. A fresh graduate would expect to intern for about six months before finding a full-time position.
Alternatively, it is often easier to find work at China-based English-language publications where you can do original journalism, such as the South China Morning Post (which has a graduate scheme), Caixin Media, or Sixth Tone.
We do not recommend working for Chinese state media, as there will be few opportunities to create original content, and most work will likely be polishing articles translated from English.
We also don’t recommend directly writing about effective altruism in China due to the issues with mass outreach noted earlier.
Work in top Chinese companies, or the Chinese office of a top Western company (especially in technology)
We suspect you’ll learn about relevant issues faster in the think tank roles discussed above. However, if you want to spend more time in China, then another option is to work in a company in China.
If you pick a high-performance company — such as a top startup — then you’ll develop transferable skills, while learning about China at the same time.
Another advantage of this path is that you could follow it into earning to give. Since Chinese charities can often only be funded by Chinese citizens, in the long term there will be a need for Chinese citizens earning to give.
The corporate path is also especially useful if you can work in an industry relevant to the most pressing global issues, such as AI and biotechnology, so you can make connections in that area.
This suggests aiming to work in Chinese technology companies. Recently, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology identified Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent — collectively known as BAT — and voice intelligence specialist iFlyTek as the ‘national team’ to lead the country’s AI efforts:15
Baidu will focus on developing autonomous driving technologies
Alibaba will focus on smart cities
Tencent will focus on computer vision for medical diagnosis
Mobvoi (received Google’s first direct investment as a Chinese company in the past six years)
Ubtech (has the most intellectual patents in the humanoid service robotic industry)
iCarbonX (became a unicorn in less than six months since being founded)
The latter three companies were selected in the The AI 100 2017 list published by the investment institute CB Insights.
You could also work in promising Chinese startups. Y Combinator has started to admit Chinese companies, starting with Strikingly in 2013. You could also target those that have been funded by top Chinese venture capitalists, such as Sequoia Capital China, Sinovation Ventures, and Chinaccelerator. Read more about startup jobs. That said, there is still much more startup expertise in Silicon Valley, so if you have the choice between the two, it might be best to train in Silicon Valley before switching to China.
If you do not have a technical background, it is also possible to work at these AI groups and startups in roles such as business development, operations, and marketing.
In all cases, the aim would be to learn about China and make relevant connections, rather than push any particular agenda.
There are many other places you could work outside of technology, even if the connections will be less useful. For instance, you could aim to work at the Chinese office of a top Western consultancy, finance firm, or professional services firm. This offers many of the standard benefits of this path — namely a prestigious credential, flexibility, and general professional development — while also letting you learn about China. We’ve heard some claims that your career might advance faster if you start in London or New York, but this advantage seems to be shrinking due to the increasingly greater opportunities and importance of Asia. Another consideration is that, except in Hong Kong, salaries are generally lower in China, even at international firms.
If you want to focus on earning to give, then the highest-earning options probably involve working in finance in Hong Kong, such as in quantitative trading. Hong Kong is one of the world’s largest financial centres, and also has a very low tax rate of around 15%. Unfortunately, Hong Kong is culturally quite different from mainland China, so you won’t learn as much about the mainland unless you make a substantial effort.
Work in philanthropy in China
It’s useful to learn about philanthropy in China to understand attitudes about doing good, as well as make connections with Chinese philanthropists.
One career option here is to work at research institutions dedicated to the topic of philanthropy in China, such as:
China Global Philanthropy Institute, which was established in Shenzhen by five prominent Chinese and American philanthropists: Bill Gates, Ray Dalio, Niu Gensheng, He Qiaonyu, and Ye Qingjun. The institute organises training programmes such as the Global Philanthropy Leaders Program for China’s High Net Worth Individuals.
Before pursuing these options, it might be useful to first learn about best practices in Western philanthropy, perhaps by working at Open Philanthropy, GiveWell, or other strategic philanthropy organisations.
Teach English in China
What’s the easiest job for someone smart but lazy? The top answer to this question on Quora claims that it’s teaching English in China.
The huge demand for English teachers means that this option is open to most native English college graduates. These positions typically pay $15,000–$30,000 per year, include accommodation, and might only require four hours of work per day. For instance, you get a monthly salary of $2,100–2,800 per month during a typical one-year program offered by First Leap. Job benefits include work visa sponsorship arrangement, flight to China, and a settling-in allowance of up to $1,500. Another program, Teach in China, offers $900–1,800 per month in compensation, but also provides rent-free housing and can be pursued for just one semester. This is more than enough to live in a small Chinese city, and you can earn even more if you do private tutoring.
This option won’t get you equally useful skills and connections as the options above, but you will be able to learn about Chinese culture, and study the Chinese language at the same time.
Build a network in China
Many jobs offer you some opportunity to build connections in China as part of your regular job. For instance, you could volunteer to work on Chinese-relevant projects, or attend Chinese-focused conferences. If you’re an academic, you could collaborate with Chinese researchers.
Some past examples include:
World Intelligence Congress, the first international AI convention in China, which aimed to encourage international cooperation among global experts in the field. It was hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology, among other high government authorities in China. Speakers included Jack Ma from Alibaba, Robin Li from Baidu, and Nick Bostrom from the Future of Humanity Institute. The conference was held in Tianjin in June 2017.
World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare, jointly hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare. The theme of the conference was to “advance farm animal welfare, promote sustainable development, advocate ethical consumption” and was attended by international organisations, government agencies, animal welfare experts, and livestock industry stakeholders.
You could also find a list of major conferences in China on this site.
Other prestigious options for talented Chinese citizens
Below are more options often pursued by talented Chinese citizens. However, they’re less directly relevant to our list of the most pressing global problems, so we don’t think they’re as useful.
Foundations: for instance, work at the Gates Foundation’s China office on domestic health and development, as well as promising interventions such as tobacco tax policy.
International organisations: some examples include IFC under World Bank Group and UNDP China office.
Teaching accelerator schemes: working at Chinese poverty alleviation and rural education charities such as Serve for China (黑土麦田) and Teach for China (美丽中国).
Social entrepreneurship accelerator schemes: if you are a social entrepreneur, it would be useful to get into programmes such as Harvard SEED Fellowship (哈佛社会创新种子社区) and Yiqiao Fellowship (益桥伙伴) with access to local resources, connections and mentorship.
Government position leadership schemes: for example, working at the government agency State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development (国务院扶贫办) to implement policy for poverty alleviation.
AliResearch: similar to Tencent Research Institute, it is an in-house think tank under Alibaba. One of its articles points out the differences in the AI development priorities between China and the US, in particular China’s current neglect in its potential risks, safety, and governance issues compared to the US.
If you’re Chinese, it might also make sense to work in Western companies on AI safety, such as OpenAI and DeepMind, and then help introduce AI safety research to China.
Read about other AI organisations in our full profile.
We don’t know of any organisations explicitly focused on the importance of China related to existential risks from engineered pandemics, but you could aim to work at a Western organisation and apply your expertise in China. The Future of Humanity Institute and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk are good contenders, as well as any of Open Philanthropy’s grantees in this area. We would especially highlight Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is partially funded to look into the Chinese perspectives on biosecurity risks associated with advances in biotechnology, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which also does work related to China.
Within conventional pandemics (as opposed to engineered pandemics), some options that are especially China-focused include:
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) appears to be the most important institution working on this problem in the country. The Chinese Field Epidemiology Training Program seems to be a promising option to get your foot in the door. There is also a one-year Western Chinese Field Epidemiology Training Program that was launched in 2016, aiming to increase the epidemiologic capacity in the Western provinces of China.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative has a China focus and also hosts the Beijing Seminar on International Security, which brings together experts from China and around the world to discuss nuclear security topics. It also collaborated with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations to organise a nuclear smuggling simulation exercise to highlight how China and the US could strengthen cooperation to prevent or respond to a nuclear smuggling incident.
Another promising option is the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. It’s based in Beijing and has the Nuclear Policy Program as one of its research focuses.
Another option we know less about is the Chinese State Nuclear Security Technology Center, which was jointly constructed by the China Atomic Energy Authority and the US Department of Energy. It is the largest nuclear programme to receive direct funding from both Chinese and US governments. The Centre aims to improve international cooperation on nuclear security and has the capacity to train about 2,000 nuclear security staff from China and other Asia-Pacific nations each year.
Focusing on the China expertise path seems most attractive if you have an interest in China and a humanities research skillset.
You need to be able to develop your expertise in China and effective altruism to at least the point where Western organisations would want to seek your advice.
If you’re not sure about your level of interest, then you could study in China for a month, or do some other kind of short visit or project, to see how interesting you find it. We may be able to help you find funding to cover this.
You could then pursue one of the more flexible paths listed above — such as graduate study (especially in economics), good early-career policy positions (think tank researcher, staffer, government leadership schemes), or work in technology companies — with the intention of focusing on China. If that doesn’t work out, you’ll have good backup options elsewhere in policy, research, earning to give, and so on.
Focusing on this path is also more attractive if you’re more focused on issues around global catastrophic risks, emerging technology, and factory farming, rather than global health.
If you are a Chinese citizen, then it would be best if you are already significantly involved in the effective altruism community in the West, and ideally have volunteered or interned with some of the organisations in the community.
What about Russia and India?
Many of the arguments above could also be made about Russia and India.
However, we see Russia as less important than China because it has a weaker technology industry, so isn’t nearly as likely to play a central role in AI or biotech development. It also has a much smaller economy and population in general, and hasn’t been growing at anywhere near the rate of China, so seems less likely to be a central global power in the future.
Likewise, we see India as significantly less likely to play a leading role in shaping new technologies than China. The existence of many English speakers in India also means there are more people able to fill the knowledge gap already, reducing the need for additional specialists.
Given this, we haven’t listed ‘Russia specialist’ or ‘India specialist’ in our priority paths.
Because this is one of our priority paths, if you think this path might be a great option for you, we’d be especially excited to advise you on next steps, one-on-one. We can help you consider your options, make connections with others working in the same field, and possibly even help you find jobs or funding opportunities.
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Notes and references
According to the report Attractiveness Program Africa published by Ernst & Young in May 2017, China made the biggest amount in FDI capital investment and created the greatest number of jobs via FDI globally in 2016. Note that in terms of the number of FDI projects, China stood as the third largest country behind the U.S. and France. The figures of the report are sourced from fDi Markets, a service provided by the Financial Times.↩
Boden, T.A., Marland, G., and Andres, R.J. (2017). “National CO2 Emissions from Fossil-Fuel Burning, Cement Manufacture, and Gas Flaring: 1751-2014”, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Archived link, retrieved 24-Aug-2017. For a clear illustration of the data, see the chart “2014 Global CO2 Emissions from Fossil-Fuel Burning Combustion and Some Industrial Processes”. Archived link, retrieved 24-Aug-2017.
The same figure was used by the Chinese media company Sina in reporting the Paris Agreement meeting in 2015.↩
According to a report released by US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, China accounted for half of the US$2.2tn investment in energy efficiency during 2016.↩
Source: OECD (2017), Meat consumption (indicator). doi: 10.1787/fa290fd0-en (Accessed on 24 August 2017). From the data, the U.S. consumes roughly twice as much meat per capita than China. Given that China has about 4 times the population as the U.S., China consumes twice as much meat than the U.S. in aggregate. Being the largest global consumer, China eats about a quarter of the world’s meat.↩
According to Lloyd Risk Assessment, 7 out of 20 (or 4 out of the top 10) cities most at risk of initiating a human pandemic are located in China, measured by potential loss in GDP. Archived link, retrieved 24-Aug-2017. In the last century, there was a number of regional flu strains originated in China: Asian Flu (1957–1958), Hong Kong Flu (1968–1969), SARS (2003) and most recently H7N9 Avian Flu (2013).↩
According to Global Technology Innovation Hub Report 2017 published by KPMG, 26% respondents voted U.S. and 25% voted China in response to the question “Which countries show the most promise for disruptive technology breakthrough that will have a global impact?”.
Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, said on Reddit that:
I think China is probably the second most interesting startup market to me in the world right now (after Silicon Valley).
During an interview with CNBC in 2016, former CEO of Uber Travis Kalanick said that Beijing will rival San Francisco in the next 5 to 10 years. Archived link, retrieved 24-Aug-2017.↩
According to Crunchbase, as of February 2018, there are 279 unicorns globally with the U.S. accounting for roughly half of them. China is the second lead with more than 90 unicorns, contributing to about 30%. Moreover, there are 4 Chinese companies in the world’s top 10 in terms of valuation: Didi, Xiaomi, Lu.com and Meituan-Dianping. Archived link, retrieved 26-Feb-2018.↩
Most experts seem to believe that China still lags behind the U.S. in AI development, but there are several significant factors that may change the future dynamic. For example, China has strong support from the state, abundance of data from a large pool of mobile phone users and potential of talent transfer from overseas. Also, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and iFlyTek seem to be competitive in AI R&D and commercialisation on a global level.↩
“China’s New Law Governing Foreign NGOs — An Overview and Quick Compliance Guide”, WTP, May 10, 2016, link↩
U.S. Department of State, The Foreign Service Institute. “Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers”. Archived link, retrieved 14-Oct-2007. The study was conducted based on “the length of time it takes to achieve Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3).” for native English speakers. To learn “Category I: Languages closely related to English” such as Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish, it requires approximately 575-600 class hours to reach such level of fluency. Mandarin Chinese belongs to “Category III: Languages which are quite difficult for native English speakers”, which takes about 2200 class hours.↩
For instance, at Beijing Language and Culture University, it costs 23,200RMB (~$3,500) to enroll in a one-year Chinese Language Program. However, if you choose to enroll in a 4-week Regular Course with 20 class hours per week, it would cost 3,500RMB (~$530).↩
According to Nomad List, a community of remote workers who find destinations to go and places to work, these cities cost about $600-650 per month to live. There are even cities such as Nanyang and Wenling that cost less than $500 per month, but they are arguably much more challenging for foreigners to navigate.↩
“China recruits Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent to AI ‘national team’”, South China Morning Post, Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 4:46pm, Link↩